Algeria-Watch: Criminal Lawsuits Against Algeria’s Generals
Algeria-Watch, January 2004 (Translation from german)
Two lawsuits were filed in December 2003 in Paris: one by the family of one of the murdered monks from Tibhirine, the other by a victim of torture.
Abderrahmane El-Mehdi Mosbah, who had lived in France since 1994 and was granted political asylum, filed a complaint on December 5, 2003, against General Larbi Belkheir based on the torture that he endured throughout November and December, 2003 during his 40-day secret detention by the gendarmerie. When Mehdi Mosbah learned that Algeria’s most important figure was staying in Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris, he contacted the office of the prosecutor through his attorney in order to file a complaint against Belkheir with the goal of eliciting testimony from Belkheir and initiating preliminary proceedings against him. Mehdi Mosbah’s complaint was heard by the police on December 9.
General Larbi Belkheir was Interior Minister from October 18, 1991, until July 19, 1992. Since 1999, he has been an advisor to the President. Although he has not held an official position within the administration for a long time, he belongs to the highest political decision-making circle. Most notably, he played a fundamental role in the armed services and the secret service. Mehdi Mosbah presented the police with abundant evidence of Belkheir’s prominent role in the Algerian system of repression. It appears that the systemic use of torture in the detention centers, which were under the control of the military leadership, was inevitably under General Belkheir’s authority, who had to have been informed of the crimes being committed there.
After the complaint was filed, General Belkheir promptly left France. However, because preliminary proceedings have been initiated against him, during his next visit to France, he can be required to answer to the charges against him.
A second complaint was filed against ‘an unknown party’ by the Lebreton family and Father Armand Veilleux, abbot of the Cistercian order, based on the abduction and murder of Father Christophe Lebreton, one of the seven monks from Tibhirine. The monks were abducted on the night of March 26, 1995 by an armed group. The GIA (Groupe islamique armée), under the leadership of Djamel Zitouni, confessed to the act. Two months later, the heads of the seven clergymen were found. Neither the French nor the Algerian State initiated an investigation to track down the actual perpetrators. On the contrary: in conjunction with the church, both states acquiesced in the official version that the GIA had committed the offense, even though numerous inconsistencies and contradictions have appeared that would have warranted an investigation. During the course of the year, abundant information and statements were gathered by journalists and observers from diverse witnesses, including the military and Islamists. These stand in blatant contradiction to the official version of the incident (1). Moreover, since in the meantime the collusion between Djamel Zitouni and the Algerian secret service has become public, no credibility can be attributed to the GIA claim of responsibility that was introduced as evidence.
The initiation of proceedings through the French judiciary could serve to shed light not only on this tragic event, but in particular, on the involvement of the French Interior and Foreign intelligence service in this exceedingly complex matter. Did a Zitouni delegate not visit the French embassy in Algiers at the end of April 1996 in order to hand over a cassette to the embassy staff, which allegedly substantiated that the monks were still alive on April 20? Did the French secret service not know where the abductors were located and how they were slowly inching along on foot with their hostages? Was there not contact throughout the entire incident between a French “mediator” and the abductors? Why did the monks have to die? More recent disclosures by former members of the army and the DRS (Algerian secret services) provide insight into the collusion of the latter with the GIA. Abdelkader Tigha, who at the time was working in one of the most important secret service centers (CTRI) in Blida, proffered important details, including that the seven monks were brought to CTRI after their abduction. It is possible that the Algerian secret service wished to shield its role in the operation from the French and as a result, executed everyone who was involved in it. The monks, who originally were not supposed to be murdered, died, along with Djamel Zitouni and others.
The most important officials who have been responsible for the crisis in Algeria are well-known. Approximately 10 generals established a system of corruption that permeates every area of the Algerian economy. In order to maintain power, they not only have entangled their international partners in the net of corruption, but also have developed one of the most perfected terror regimes of the last decade. The Algerian secret service’s great skill is its instrumentalization of Islamist violence, in fact the creation of Islamist violence, in order to conceal the violence of the army. A further accomplishment is its manipulation of the public, particularly the western public. Not only were Algerian agents sent abroad, but foreign journalists and intellectuals were paid or pressured to obey the directives of the DRS’ Division for Psychological Operations under the leadership of Colonel Hadj Zoubir Tahri. For years, public opinion abroad accepted the official Algerian accounts of the violence, thereby de facto aiding and abetting the Algerian army. Was not the junta’s main enemy identical to the “open-minded democratic societies of the West:” the Islamist fighters in the name of God, who wished to establish an Islamist State on earth using barbaric methods?
The numerous reports from human rights organizations, victim witnesses and former members of the army and secret service are hardly able to challenge this consensus. And the media continues to reduce the complicated situation in Algeria to a simple image that conforms to prevalent western clichés. Thus, the novels authored by an army officer under the woman’s name of Yasmina Khadra (actually, Mohammed Moulessehoul), who claims to have participated in the fight against terrorism (from 1992 – 2002) despite having lived and written from abroad for years, continue to be translated. In contrast, books on the role of the Algerian military in the war and western complicity, or those written by military deserters, are rarely translated. (2)
The attacks on September 11, 2001, and the propaganda machine that was triggered worldwide in the name of the “fight against Islamist terrorism” do not facilitate the task of accounting for the crimes of the Algerian military and their accomplices. Nevertheless, progress has been made: In July 2002, as General Khaled Nezzar initiated proceedings against officer Habib Souaïdia, not only his defamation claim was discussed, but the defense successfully brought a completely different topic to the forefront of public attention – state terrorism since the coup of 1992 and France’s complicity. In 2001, three victims of torture filed complaints against General Nezzar, one of which was re-initiated at the same time as the aforementioned trial.
Due to political and diplomatic consequences, it was not anticipated that the French judiciary would hear the cases. However, the rash dismissal of the complaints again revealed the complicity of French politicians with the Algerian generals.
Nevertheless, the complaints had a further effect that should not be underestimated: namely, that even the most powerful in a country are not untouchable and that soon or later, they could be brought to justice. The publication of two books, “Qui a tué à Bentalha?” by Nesroulah Yous in 2000 and “Der Schmutzige Krieg” by Habib Souaïdia in 2001, as well as numerous reportages broadcast by Canal+, had already provided for considerable unease among the military leadership. The most recent charges have now added to the unease, particularly as the series of complaints and disclosures are not expected to diminish.
1- Algeria-Watch, Wer tötete die Mönche von Tibhirine, Infomappe 22, January 2003, <http://www.algeria-watch.org/de/artikel/aw_tibhirin.htm >
2- For example, Djallal Malti, La nouvelle guerre d’Algérie, dix clés pour comprendre, Paris, 1999. Except for the book by Habib Souaïdia, which appeared with the title Schmutziger Krieg in Algerien, Bericht eines Ex-Offiziers des Spezialkräfte des Armee (Dirty War in Algeria, Report of an ex-officer of the army special forces) (1992-2000), Zürich, 2001, no other book with significant disclosures was translated in german, including: Nesroulah Yous, Qui a tué à Bentalha?, Paris 2000; Mohammed Samraoui, Chronique des années de sang, Paris, 2003. Even the revealing novel by Abed Charef, Au nom du fils, Paris, 1998, apparently did not arouse any interest.